A former suburban Detroit police chief and five of his detectives have been charged in an alleged scheme that used drug forfeiture money to pay for prostitutes, alcohol and marijuana, and to buy a tanning salon later operated by the then-chief's wife.
Ex-Romulus Police Chief Michael St. Andre and the detectives assigned to a special investigations unit were arraigned Tuesday on multiple charges, including conducting a criminal enterprise, conspiracy, embezzlement, misconduct in office and neglect of duty. St. Andre's wife, Sandra, is charged with acquiring/maintaining a criminal enterprise, conspiracy and filing a false tax return.
Each stood mute to the charges in Romulus District Court. They were released on bond.
"The alleged conduct ... in this case defines a culture of corruption and greed at its core," Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy told reporters during an afternoon news conference. "Although an investigation of this nature takes hundreds of hours of time, it is crucial that we charge defendants where we find them, even when it is in a police department."
A member of the Romulus Police Department approached the state police in 2008 with allegations of misconduct, corruption and embezzlement involving drug forfeiture funds. The state police probe began in January 2009. More than $49,000 in cash seized by the unit under Michael St. Andre is missing, authorities say.
Part of the alleged scheme involved a purported investigation into allegations of liquor violations, prostitution and drug trafficking at two Romulus area strip clubs. That investigation was directed by Michael St. Andre and was hidden from the supervisor of the police department's special investigations unit, according to prosecutors.
Results of the strip club investigation never were forwarded to prosecutors for charges, Worthy said in a release. She said that instead of investigating, the detectives were actually soliciting prostitutes for themselves.
Worthy also said that beginning in 2006, city funds targeted for law enforcement purposes were used for personal gain. False expense reports and supporting documents were submitted, she said.
Worthy said the St. Andres used police money for personal expenses, a trip for family friends and to buy a tanning salon in neighboring Westland. None of the income was listed on the couple's tax returns.
Michael St. Andre, Detective Sgt. Richard Balzer, and detectives Richard Landry and Donald Hopkins are charged with conducting a criminal enterprise, conspiracy, embezzlement, misconduct and neglect of duty. Detectives Jeremy Channells and Larry Droege are charged with misconduct and neglect of duty.
"I can't speak for the others, but on behalf of my client, he's very confident he'll be cleared," Balzar's defense attorney, Michael Rataj, told reporters after Tuesday's hearing.
St. Andre also is charged with filing a false tax return, witness intimidation and receiving and concealing stolen property. He resigned from the police force earlier this month, citing a relative's health issue. His resignation was to become effective Tuesday.
The Associated Press left emails or phone messages late Tuesday afternoon with attorneys for the other defendants.
Preliminary examinations are scheduled for Oct. 5.